GATIEN, FÉLIX, Roman Catholic priest, missionary, teacher, school administrator, and author; b. 28 Oct. 1776 at Quebec, son of Jean-Baptiste Gatien and Marie-Françoise Aubin-Delisle; d. 19 July 1844 in Cap-Santé, Lower Canada.
Félix Gatien entered the Petit Séminaire de Québec in 1786, and he is thought to have had some difficulties in the primary classes. But later he was more successful, since in 1790–91 he passed from the first form to the third in one year, was in the sixth form (Rhetoric) in 1793, and completed Philosophy, the final two years of the classical program, in August 1796. He had an excellent teacher, Joseph-Marie Boissonnault, in Rhetoric, and he took his philosophy and science under two émigré priests, Jean-Baptiste-Marie Castanet* and Jean Raimbault.
Gatien studied theology while teaching at the Petit Séminaire, and on 16 Feb. 1800 he was ordained priest. After appointing him assistant priest at Saint-Eustache, Bishop Pierre Denaut* in 1801 chose him to assist Jean-Baptiste Marchand* at Sandwich (Windsor, Ont.), where Gatien carried on his ministry until 1806. On his return he was admitted to the Séminaire de Québec as a member of the community on 21 Oct. 1806. In the 11 years he spent there, he was called upon to serve as professor of theology, bursar, director of the Grand Séminaire and the Petit Séminaire, and ex-officio or appointed member of the community’s council. It would have been normal for him to spend his life at the seminary and indeed on 7 Aug. 1817 the council again named him director of the Grand Séminaire. But on 29 August, in the presence of a notary, Gatien relinquished his membership in the community. The reasons for his action are not known. In a letter of 8 September to Bishop Joseph-Octave Plessis*, Bernard-Claude Panet*, his coadjutor, observed that the seminary was to be pitied upon Gatien’s departure and that the way he left would do nothing to attract new members. After being a brilliant student, Gatien had proved a remarkable teacher who enjoyed the affection of his pupils.
Plessis put Gatien in charge of the parish of Cap-Santé. At the time the parish, which had a good location on the St Lawrence, took in the villages of Portneuf and Saint-Basile. Gatien, who was completely devoted to his parishioners, neglected none of his pastoral duties. Following the advice of Plessis faithfully, in 1822 he refused to serve as visitor of the school which the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning set up in his parish. Nor did he hesitate to speak out from the pulpit that year against the proposed union of the Canadas. In keeping with the customs of his Alma Mater, as parish priest he seldom went out and did little entertaining. He spent his spare time in the long winters reading and improving his mind. And that was how he came to write the “Mémoires historiques sur la paroisse et fabrique du Cap-Santé depuis son établissement jusqu’en 1831,” which was published 40 years after his death. In so doing he had again heeded the counsels of Plessis, who encouraged priests to take an interest in Canadian history. In his Mémoires Gatien shows that he was well informed about the historical past of the country and keenly observant of his own times and his parishioners.
A capable administrator with solid good sense and much experience of men and events, Félix Gatien also knew how to please with the charm and finesse of his conversation, which as Louis-Jacques Casault*, his assistant priest from 1831 to 1834 and later rector of the Université Laval, would recall, was enlivened with Gallic humour. An enlightened amateur of painting, he was also one of those who believed in the talent of the young painter Antoine Plamondon*, from whom he had commissioned a large canvas for his church in 1825. Gatien belonged to a generation that had studied at Quebec or Montreal in the period 1780–1800, lived through the period of the French revolution and knew émigré priests, and carried on ministry under Bishop Plessis. Priests of this generation had received an excellent classical education and they shone through their qualities of mind and heart, even if they were somewhat stern. One thinks of Jérôme Demers* and Jean-Baptiste Boucher, to mention but two. Conscious of his responsibilities to the end, Gatien considered it necessary to tell his archbishop, Joseph Signay, on 13 July 1844 that he was too ill to conduct the novena to St Anne. He died six days later.
Félix Gatien’s “Mémoires historiques sur la paroisse et fabrique du Cap-Santé depuis son établissement jusqu’en 1831” was published at Quebec in 1884 as Histoire de la paroisse du Cap-Santé. In addition, François-Maximilien Bibaud, Le panthéon canadien (A. et V. Bibaud; 1891), credits him as author of Manuel du chrétien and La semaine sainte, about which works nothing further is known.
AAQ, 20 A, IV: 98; 61 CD, Cap-Santé, I: 22; 303 CD, I: 98. ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 29 oct. 1776; CE1-8, 22 juill. 1844. ASQ, Fichier des anciens; Lettres, O, 125; mss, 12F: 58–63; 433; 437; mss-m, 103–4, 140, 146, 153, 155; Séminaire, 9, nos.27–28; 40, no.2; 56, no.89; 78, no.24H; SME, 21 oct. 1806. P.-G. Roy, Fils de Québec, 3: 183–85. Morisset, Peintres et tableaux, 2: 137–38.